'Man down! Man down!' Video captures last moments of firefighter's fatal training exercise

A coroner's jury say a video Wednesday of Point Edward Firefighter Gary Kendall's last moments during a ice and water training exercise.

A video showing the training exercise that claimed Gary Kendall's life played during inquest

This video was shown at the inquest into the death of firefighter Gary Kendall. 0:30

A video capturing the last few seconds of Gary Kendall's struggle against the fast moving ice during a training exercise was played during the second day of the inquest into his death in 2010.

The coroner's jury saw the video and heard testimony Thursday at the hearing in Toronto. The inquest will also hear evidence on the death of Adam Brunt, a student firefighter who was killed in a similar training accident in 2015.

The footage shows Kendall and fellow firefighter David Dobson sandwiched between chunks of  fast flowing ice on the St. Clair River in Point Edward, Ont..

Kendall, the only one in a black suit, flips over from the force of the ice. His head disappears below as the camera moves away briefly. Then a chorus of voices can be heard yelling, "Man down! Man down!" 

Dan Nelles, a Sarnia firefighter who was behind the camera, says, "Man down! Where?" Three seconds later, someone screams, "Where's Kendall?"
Before the video was played for the jury, the Kendall family was given the opportunity to leave the courtroom. But his daughter, Myrissa Kendall, decided to stay.

"It was the last time he was alive. I wanted to see him one more time," she told CBC Toronto.

"I've always had a picture of how he went under, but to actually see it is just confirming how awful that day actually was and what my dad had to go through in the end." 

Myrissa Kendall, Gary Kendall's daughter, wanted to see her father one more time. 0:29

'I could see that he was struggling'

While testifying Wednesday, Nelles said he was invited to participate in the course. He told the inquest he decided to film the exercise to share what he learned with his own department.

Describing Kendall's last moments caught on camera he said, "I could see that he was struggling." 

Although there was ice on either side of him, Nelles said there was also some water and Kendall tried to swim but he looked fatigued.

"Eventually the solid ice overcomes him," he said.

'I could see that he was struggling,' said Sarnia firefighter Nelles, who captured the last few moments before Kendall disappeared below the ice. (Lambton Shield)

Alarm bells

Leading up to that Nelles recalled noticing that Kendall had a different personal flotation device (PFD). 

"Some of us had PFD's on, which are a solid floatation device. Mr. Kendall's, as I recall ... it's not inflated,".

Nelles wondered whether Kendall may have been wearing a PFD that was supposed to inflate when he hit the water or one that required him to pull on a tab, but either way, "at no point did it activate," he said.

Nelles also said not enough was done to prepare for an emergency like the one that claimed Kendall's life, saying a rapid intervention team had not been formed.  

"We heard that safety equipment wasn't readily available. That the defibrillator wasn't readily available. That stuff needs to be there," said Kendall's daughter.  

Volunteer firefighter Gary Kendall of Point Edward was taking part in an ice water training exercise in January 2010 when he was pulled under the St. Clair River and later died. (Family photo)

Last words

The man closest to Kendall in those final moments, David Dobson, testified later in the day.

"It was very loud. The ice was fracturing around us," he said. Fighting not to be crushed, he said he kept breaking the ice coming at him and Kendall

"He was doing the same thing I was. He was busting ice trying to stay afloat," Dobson testified.

The last thing that Dobson recalls Kendall saying is: "This isn't good."

During their testimony both Dobson and Nelles said Terry Harrison was the man in charge that day.

They recalled the owner of Herschel Rescue Training Systems telling the trainees that day not to think but just "attack the ice."

Harrison has denied that he was running the training course that day and maintains that Point Edward Fire Chief Doug MacKenzie was in charge. Harrison, MacKenzie and the Village of Point Edward were charged under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  

While the municipality was fined $75,000, charges were dropped against MacKenzie and Harrison was acquitted.

Both are expected to testify at the inquest Thursday.  

About the Author

Makda Ghebreslassie

CBC Toronto reporter

Makda is a CBC Video-Journalist, who from time to time fills in as TV news anchor and a newsreader on Here and Now and Fresh Air. She worked in newsrooms in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor before moving back home to Toronto.